School Breakfast Program

The School Breakfast Program provides federally subsidized breakfasts to children at schools and child care facilities in the United States. The program began as a 2 year pilot in 1966. The program was supposed to serve schools in poor neighborhoods and in areas where kids had to travel a long distance in order to make it to school. To get schools to participate Congress allowed for higher payments to schools that were defined as being in "severe need". In its first year, the SBP spent US$573,000 serving about 80,000 children. In 1971 Congress modified the program, making it available to schools who needed to improve the nutrition and dietary needs of children in low income families and with working parents. They also changed the way funding was reimbursed, from categorical grant reimbursement to per-meal reimbursement. The SBP was permanently authorized in 1975 for all schools who needed to provide better nutrition for their students and for higher reimbursement of the school. Federal funding is provided in the form of cash reimbursements for each breakfast served, varied in amount by the family income of the participating child.

All children in participating schools and residential institutions are eligible for a federally subsidized meal, regardless of family income. However, free meals must be offered to children from families with incomes below 130% of the federal poverty level, and reduced price meals to those with family incomes between 130% and 185% of the poverty level. Those families over the 185% poverty level have to pay full price for their meals which are set by the school. Even though the children have to pay for their own meals, the school is still reimbursed. The most current reimbursement rates for participating schools are $1.55 for each free breakfast, $1.25 for each reduced-price breakfast, and $0.27 for each paid breakfast. A school may receive a higher reimbursement rate for serving free or reduced-price meals to more than 40% of their students in the previous year. The higher rates can be as much as $0.30 more than standard rates. Schools in Hawaii and Alaska receive higher reimbursement rates than the schools in the contiguous United States. The percentage of meals being served at these higher rates is about 77%. These reimbursements are active from July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2013. The program is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service and funded by annual agricultural appropriations.

The USDA has to formulate their meal patterns and nutrition according to the Dietary Guidelines of Americans as directed by The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. There are plans in place for the SBP to gradually start changing their meals in 2013. Some of the changes include more whole grains, appropriate calorie counts according to grade, and lower sodium content. The sodium content must be reduced enough to meet standards, at the latest, by the 2022-2023 school year.

As of 2010, the School Breakfast Program was the second largest of the targeted food aid programs administrated by the Food and Nutrition Service, feeding 16 million children. This compares with the School Lunch program, which helped feed 32 million children a day in 2010.

School Breakfast Programs and Academic Success
Researchers have extensively studied the relationship between breakfast consumption and academic performance. It has been noted that breakfast consumption has a positive impact on student's academic achievement. There is evidence that school breakfast programs have positive effects on a student's ability to learn and function in school. Past discoveries have been made that students who participate in school breakfast programs have higher standardized test scores and lower levels of absenteeism.More recent research has found a positive correlation between school breakfast program participation and academic grades, specifically in the subject of mathematics, along with a decrease in absences and lateness. This was demonstrated by a research study on sixth-grade students in a Midwest urban school district who ate breakfast and had significantly higher math scores than their peers who had low nutrient intakes. According to recent research studies at Tufts University and the Bogalusa (LA) Heart Study, children and adults who eat a healthy breakfast are more likely to improve their memory, concentration, energy, endurance and mood as well as attend school more often. Breakfast consumption is also associated with cognitive abilities such as creativity, reasoning, vocabulary, and problem solving.

Engagement in a breakfast program has also shown to have a positive influence on psychosocial behavior. In a study on high school students, male participants reported feeling more positive after eating a nutritious breakfast. Within the same study, both male and female student participants reported feeling more alert after breakfast consumption. All in all, healthy eating is essential for the growth and development of children and youth and schools have long been recognized as a setting for public health intervention. School breakfast programs have benefits for students' academic, behavioral and social development.

School Breakfast Programs and Important Considerations
There are various strengths to facilitating a school breakfast program. As noted, they have the ability to reach hungry students and have an overall positive impact on students. People who coordinate school breakfast programs advocated they reach students who need them most.

There are important considerations for successful school breakfast programs. Having supportive school staff is key. Reliable staff and/or parent volunteers are essential with all of the time and work associated with coordinating the program. Another option is enlisting student volunteers, which will positively contribute to building teacher-student rapport. Having an openly accessible and inviting program for students will also aid in its success. An important consideration is whether the program will offer variety in foods, serving ethnically diverse foods to students.

One program's strength may be viewed as another's weakness. For example, while some programs offer a variety of food, other program coordinators report food variety to be a weakness. Trying to meet cultural and religious restrictions may be challenging. Timing is another common struggle with parents sometimes bringing their children to school late and a clash between bus and school breakfast schedules. Building partnerships with stores and community organizations for monetary or in-kind support is another possible hurdle. Finding and maintaining these links can be difficult for some schools.

There are potential threats to program sustainability. The most common threat is funding. Coordinators who take lead of the program worry that if they are to leave the school no one would replace them and the program was cease. Another threat is the potential stigma for students participating in the program. This speaks to the idea of school breakfast programs being available to all students. Programs that are mainly directed at at-risk students report stigma. Another threat is catering to students' food allergies and religious and cultural dietary restrictions.